Goethe University: On course for sustainability

The new building for Linguistics, Cultures and Arts, which opened its doors on Goethe University’s Westend Campus in September, boasts several types of roof greenery. Photo. Uwe Dettmar

With its new Sustainability Office, Goethe University intends to mobilize the potential of sustainability for university development

Goethe University plans to make consistent strides in the direction of sustainability in the coming years. Sustainability constitutes one of the most important goals of the university’s eleven strategic fields of action, in effect since 2021. The aspiration is also reflected in the current research profile: “Sustainability and Biodiversity” is one of Goethe University’s six research priorities.

“As one of Germany’s largest and most research-intensive universities, Goethe University must assume responsibility for current and future generations. In the program for my presidency, I summed this up under the motto `Knowledge for Development, Sustainability and Equity in the 21st Century’,” says University President Prof. Dr. Enrico Schleiff. “The transformation of Goethe University into a sustainable organization, taking into account the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is a particular priority of mine,” Schleiff says, adding: “That is why we are setting out on this journey.”

In the late summer of 2022, the university set up a dedicated Sustainability Office with five employees, which directly advises the Executive Board, supports it in content-related matters, and – most important of all – operates a network that extends throughout the entire university. Schleiff: “We will only achieve our goal of becoming a sustainable university if we live up to and put into practice the sustainability claim. With a view to driving forward our development and excellence, we have begun the process of systematically and optimally anchoring sustainability within Goethe University in the fields of governance, operations, research, teaching and transfer, as well as with regard to the awareness among and actions of university members.”

At the press conference held on October 20, 2022, Schleiff thanked the students for their valuable input: “I am very grateful that a major impulse for the establishment of a Sustainability Office came directly from the student body – clearly showing that students are actively taking on responsibility for their university and the sustainable shaping of their environment. At the same time, the decision to set up a dedicated Sustainability Office also illustrates just how seriously the Executive Board takes pioneering impulses from the student body – true to and in line with sustainable ‘participation’ – and how these are even given a permanent institutional form. In fact. the student initiative ‘Goethe’s Green Office’ continues to support the new Sustainability Office in an advisory capacity.”

The Sustainability Office serves as the central coordination hub for the entire sustainability process at Goethe University, acting as the link between university management, university lecturers, scientific employees, technical and administrative employees, students and external partners. It in effect bundles the wide-ranging tasks of sustainability management in one place.

“The Sustainability Office strengthens Goethe University’s future viability, innovative ability and strategy capability. It also enhances the exchange with the ever-changing German university landscape, which is increasingly facing up to its own responsibility within a social-ecological transformation,” explains Dr. Johannes Reidel, who heads the new office.

With a view towards shaping the transformation into a sustainable university, the Sustainability Office supports the university management in implementing a holistic organizational development in line with a “Whole Institution Approach”. This practice goes beyond addressing the content-related aspects of sustainability at the university, and extends all the way to aligning all processes with the principle of sustainable development.

The Sustainability Office’s main overarching, ongoing areas of responsibility are:

  • Strategy consulting and skills development
  • Coordination and support 
  • Networking and best-practice exchange
  • Communication and transfer

Of the various sustainability goals that Goethe University is either already working on or will start addressing in the near future, the energy management sector stands out in particular.

“It is during times of crisis that windows of opportunity open for necessary changes, such as the energy turnaround and the related move away from fossil fuels. From an ecological point of view, every ton of CO2 saved is a gain for climate protection,” says Dr. Albrecht Fester, Goethe University Vice President for Finances and Administration.

To save fossil energies and thus CO2, Goethe University is investing some 30 million euros in energy-efficient building refurbishment, sustainable power generation and energy-related upgrades to technical facilities. Fester adds that additional savings of more than 4 million euros annually are to be achieved by means of:

  • the energetic renovation of buildings,
  • the installation of new photovoltaic plants on 12 building roofs,
  • the systematic switch to LED-lighting, and
  • the renovation of ventilation and air-conditioning systems as well as other energy-intensive equipment

Upcoming event: Representatives of all status groups will discuss the current state of sustainability at Goethe University in a public panel discussion, held in a fishbowl format, on November 22, starting at 18:00 in the Festsaal on the Westend Campus. University members are invited to join the discussion and network with colleagues from the Sustainability Office. 

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